The new identity comes ten years after Channel 4’s last brand refresh, but while ten years is a long time in media, the broadcaster’s previous look – which included abstract idents where the 4 logo appeared out of landscapes – hadn’t necessarily grown tired and was still much loved by viewers. With this in mind, Chris Bovill and John Allison, head of the channel’s in-house creative agency 4Creative (which is behind the concept for the new identity, alongside creative agency DBLG), describe the challenge of rebranding as “one of the biggest, scariest briefs we’ve ever had”.
Wisely then, when there is so much love for Channel 4’s iconic style, the team decided to keep the classic 4 logo originally designed by Lambie Nairn, though it will no longer appear in its full form on TV. Instead the 4 has been broken down into its constituent parts, which will be used across all of Channel 4’s branding, from on-screen graphics menus, to the new typeface, to the channel’s idents.
“Our starting point was that Channel 4 is so much more than just a number,” says Bovill. “We’ve actually got something to say, we’ve got a remit – to be original, alternative, innovative, to be surprising, to be bold. We stand for this – let’s make the branding reflect that. So instead of just telling people what they’re watching, tell them why they’re watching.
“We went back to the start, we went back to the iconic Lambie-Nairn 4 … and we broke it apart. It was incredibly liberating.”
The new identity needs to work hard for the channel, to be distinctive yet flexible enough to work across all Channel 4’s offerings, from Countdown to Channel 4 News (which will feature a new title sequence based around the blocks, launching tonight). “The broadcast media landscape is a much more complicated place than it was ten years ago,” says Allison, “so there’s a need to stand out more than ever before.
“From the very start, we wanted whatever we did to be real and to be tactile, because if you look at a lot of other branding out there, it’s very shiny and CGI-led. As a channel and a brand, we have a real impact on the world around us, and so we wanted our brand identity to be very real and tactile. The blocks run through all the on-screen identity and into the idents that Jonathan Glazer’s filmed for us.”
Glazer’s idents present the blocks as elemental forms born of nature and found within the earth. His films have a sci-fi, slightly mad feel, depicting the blocks being discovered and their impact on the world. While there is a narrative running through the four films, they are abstract enough to potentially leave viewers, especially those more used to the obvious approach of most TV channel branding, scratching their heads and wondering what on earth is going on. Their subtlety is their charm though, and the decision not to spell everything out is a bold and exciting one, plus intentionally leaves room for the channel to expand on the theme in future films.
“Channel 4 is unique and precious, there’s nothing else quite like it, so the idents have a pressure on them to imbue the blocks with that quality, that they are part of the fabric of everything,” says Allison.
The concept behind the channel’s use of type in the new identity is a little more straightforward, though the blocks remain central to this too. Designed by Neville Brody, there are now two fonts, Chadwick and Horseferry, named after the streets that Channel 4 sits on. Chadwick serves as an information font, while Horseferry is the headline font. “Horseferry is built out of Chadwick and in it you can find all the little blocks. They’re all buried within it,” says Alice Tonge, creative director at 4Creative.
“It’s got loads of character – it’s occasionally spiky, sometimes smooth, sometimes goes against the grain, doesn’t always follow type rules. Full of personality, and only something that Channel 4 could own. That was the big thing – to create something that when you look at it, you know it’s Channel 4.”
The new font will be used on air and across all of the channel’s off-air advertising, where it will appear alongside the new, slimmer 4 logo. “Off air is the only place you’ll see the fully formed 4,” says Tonge. “It’s really different from the current 3D graphic – it’s going back to the original 3D tactile blocks. It’s been on a bit of a diet – adding a bit more space around the blocks draws your attention to the blocks themselves.”
Channel 4’s new identity is unusual, but also coherent and confident. While quirky, it avoids falling into being gimmicky, and it’s easy to imagine the fun the team can have with it going forward. It may be coincidental – the rebrand has been worked on for three years – but its arrival at a time of speculation around whether the channel will be privatised seems apt, for it serves as a reminder of the bold, creative decisions that run through the channel’s history, and, according to Allison, remain central to the organisation today.
“There’s an incredible creative culture here, running right through the building,” he says. “So instantly you’re on the front foot because you’re not thinking ‘oh god, how am going to get this thing through’. You know that it will be received in the most nurturing of environments, even if it’s not right. So that gives you so much confidence at the blank piece of paper stage.